14 arrested, boats seized in Miramichi Bay violence
Federal raids make Bob Rae's mediating job `difficult'
Toronto Star Atlantic Canada Bureau
Wednesday, September 13, 2000
HALIFAX - The chief of a New Brunswick reserve was among 14 people arrested and a native man was in hospital following another violent raid on Miramichi Bay.
The latest confrontation came just four days before former Ontario premier Bob Rae was to begin mediating a bloody conflict between the Burnt Church First Nation and the federal government.
The two sides have clashed repeatedly in the last month over whether the band has a treaty right to fish lobster out of season.
Yesterday, fisheries officials seized four more boats and arrested 14 people in a three-hour sweep of the bay.
One native patrol boat capsized during the raid, throwing four people into the water. RCMP divers jumped into the bay to help rescue them.
One native patrol officer, Donald Barnaby, was later admitted to hospital in Tracadie with back injuries.
A second native man who is diabetic was taken to hospital and released.
Rae said yesterday federal raids have made the ``difficult task'' of negotiating an end to the dispute that much more difficult.
All sides in the fishing dispute must use restraint if a negotiated settlement is to be reached, Rae told reporters at a news conference following a three-hour meeting in Ottawa with Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) officials and Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal.
Rae said he expressed to the federal government his ``surprise'' at the day's events.
Band leaders said that mediation may be scrapped because of the federal raid.
``We are angry, disappointed, hurt and very frustrated,'' said band spokesperson Karen Somerville.
`I am not here to impose a solution. I don't think it would be acceptable to anybody if some guy from Toronto were to go down to Burnt Church and say here's the magic solution. It's ridiculous. That's not the nature of my appointment.'
|- Bob Rae |
former Ontario premier
``Every time we have a progressive move, something like this happens. I think the minister has gone beyond rational thinking. I think he has lost his mind.''
Somerville said Burnt Church Chief Wilbur Dedam was assured by top fisheries officials on Monday that they would not try to seize native lobster traps or interfere with native fishing in the next few days.
Dedam was fishing with his son, Derrick, when he was arrested yesterday morning.
Jim Jones, regional director general for the fisheries department, said the raid was sparked by concerns that native people from other areas were coming to Miramichi to fish.
``In the last few days, the fishing effort increased substantially, not only by Burnt Church but by larger vessels,'' Jones said.
``The process of mediation is between Burnt Church and DFO, not other communities. DFO remains hopeful of a mediated settlement.''
Jones claimed two of the boats seized belonged to the Big Cove band, which is far from Miramichi Bay.
But Somerville said that Dedam bought the boat from the Big Cove band on Monday.
Somerville said band members will discuss today whether to go ahead with Friday's scheduled mediation.
Yesterday's raid sparked familiar allegations of excessive force.
Somerville said that witnesses reported that the native patrol boat was repeatedly rammed by a fisheries vessel until the native boat capsized.
In two previous raids, video footage shows fisheries boats colliding with native patrol boats.
Federal efforts to keep native fishermen off Miramichi Bay this summer have become increasingly violent as both sides dig in.
A fisheries officer was hit in the face in one previous raid and must have reconstructive surgery on his face.
The issue comes out of a year-old Supreme Court ruling that recognized Mi'kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy people have a treaty right to fish commercially.
Hundreds of native people flocked to the water after the ruling, cashing in on the lucrative lobster trade.
That infuriated non-native fishermen, who must spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on boats and licences to fish lobster in tightly controlled seasons.
Last fall, Miramichi Bay was the site of the first confrontation, when non-native fishermen destroyed 4,000 native lobster traps. That raid sparked several nights of violence that saw cars burned and one man beaten with a baseball bat.
This year, the federal government has banned native fishing out of season, offering instead to subsidize native fishing in the regular commercial season.
Burnt Church rejected that offer, insisting that it has a treaty right to fish lobster in the summer as long as it doesn't hurt conservation of the species.
The issue has also flared in Nova Scotia, where the Indian Brook band has been fishing lobster outside the regular season.
A federal judge is expected to rule this week on an injunction filed by Indian Brook to stop fisheries officials from seizing native boats and traps.
Rae also spoke to Burnt Church adviser Ovide Mercredi, as well as to the head of the fishery union representing non-native fishers in the Miramichi.
``I do not have any idea at this point what impact the events . . . will have on the mediation,'' he said in an interview, but he hoped it would not founder.
``I'm a mediator, I'm a facilitator to get the parties to try and find a solution,'' he said.
``I am not here to impose a solution. I don't think it would be acceptable to anybody if some guy from Toronto were to go down to Burnt Church and say here's the magic solution. It's ridiculous. That's not the nature of my appointment.''
Rae said the focus ought to remain on the local, practical issues, and not on the larger battle over aboriginal rights in Canada.
``This is not a philosophical exercise, this is not an ideological exercise,'' he said.
With files from Tonda MacCharles